Kentucky Derby favorite Justify runs during a morning workout at Churchill Downs on May 2, 2018, in Louisville. The 144th running of the Kentucky Derby is scheduled for May 5. (AP photo/Charlie Riedel)
UPDATE: 5/6/18, 7:22 a.m. EDT. In a torrential downpour, Justify got out to an early lead and never looked back in winning the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. In doing so, he also broke the so-called Curse of Apollo, becoming the first horse since 1882 to win the Derby despite not having raced as a 2-year-old. Audible finished third.
The days leading up to the Kentucky Derby are always busy ones at Frost Brown Todd, the largest law firm in Louisville.
Clients coming in from out of town have to be entertained and the firm’s lawyers are also in demand at other events held by local clients ahead of the big race at Churchill Downs. A crowd of more than 150,000 will gather Saturday at the iconic thoroughbred racetrack for the first leg of the annual American Triple Crown.
“It really is a two-week-long festival,” said Geoffrey White, partner-in-charge of Frost Brown Todd’s roughly 150-lawyer Louisville office, about the period leading up to Derby. “There’s time away from client work, but also quality time spent with those clients.”
Justify has emerged as the favorite among a crowded field of contenders seeking to win the Derby, which each year features 3-year-old thoroughbreds. Those at Frost Brown Todd will be rooting hard for Justify to become the next equine great. But they’ll also have their eye on Audible, another entrant in the race, who trails Justify and several other horses favored to take home the Derby’s famed Garland of Roses.
Frost Brown Todd has ties to both thoroughbreds. C. Edward Glasscock, chairman emeritus of the 444-lawyer Am Law 200 firm, acquired stakes in both horses earlier this year through Starlight Racing, a Lexington, Kentucky-based racing syndicate. Glasscock, who was busy this week with myriad Derby-related events, was not immediately available to discuss his Derby Day plans or a potential Justify or Audible victory.
His son, Clinton Glasscock, told Louisville Business First this week that he and his father, through Starlight, usually spend about $2.5 million to $3 million a year on horses. The syndicate usually buys between 10 to 12 yearlings at public auctions each year where the price per horse ranges from $200,000 to $300,000, the younger Glasscock said. Earlier this year, without a horse in their stable poised to contend in the Derby, the Glasscocks spent an undisclosed sum to acquire ownership stakes in Audible and Justify.
White, who also heads Frost Brown Todd’s real estate service practice, said he is just one of many partners at the firm with clients that have come to Louisville this week to take part in various events leading up to the Derby. On the Thursday before the race, which always takes place the first Saturday of May, a local Louisville crowd gathers at Churchill Downs for a smaller race called “Thurby,” White said. The Kentucky Oaks is a race for fillies that takes place Friday.
Both events are good for client entertainment and development, said White, as well as the Saturday before the Derby when the Louisville-based Kentucky Center for the Arts Foundation just held its third annual awards gala at Churchill Downs, an event attended this year by Kentucky-born Hollywood star Jennifer Lawrence.
White acknowledged that with much of the Louisville office busy with Derby-related events throughout the week, many lawyers and staffers at Frost Brown Todd, which also has offices through out the Midwest and Southeast, are often covering for other colleagues. Those that do not attend the actual race are invited to participate in other events, such as hat contests, a popular tradition ahead of the Derby. (Louisville does not, however, have cornered the Big Law market for haberdashery.)
In March, Frost Brown Todd lost longtime Louisville partner Edward “Ned” Bonnie, who died at 88. Bonnie was one of the country’s leading equine lawyers, having made his name in the Dancer’s Image case, which occurred 50 years ago when a horse with that name became the only Derby winner in history to be disqualified after testing positive for an illegal substance. The disqualification of Dancer’s Image was eventually upheld, but the case set important precedent in equine drug testing.
White said that Frost Brown Todd continues to be a leader in equine law and that the firm represents a number of key clients in the thoroughbred industry, although he declined to identify them. Frost Brown Todd, which absorbed Indianapolis-based Locke Reynolds nearly a decade ago, took in nearly $223.6 million in gross revenue in 2017, as profits per partner hit the $501,000 mark, according to ALM Intelligence data.
Asked what would happen if either Audible or Justify prevail in Saturday’s race, White said that Glasscock and others will no doubt have some kind of celebration, including potential plans to attend the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore later this month. But, to borrow a horseracing phrase, that is putting the cart before the horse.
Until the starting gates rise Saturday evening for a race expected to last about two minutes, White and his Frost Brown Todd colleagues will be doing some pre-Derby celebrating and betting, although White’s time partaking in some of the more colorful festivities in the infield at Churchill Downs ended with his youth.
On Saturday, he expects to watch the Derby from Frost Brown Todd’s suite at the racetrack, perhaps with some bourbon, as the forecast calls for rain.
“But when the weather is right, especially if it’s hot out, nobody does a mint julep better than Churchill Downs,” White said. “They’ve got this crushed ice, it’s really great.”
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